Raleigh council agrees to allow charity food giveaways in Moore Square – for now

ccampbell@newsobserver.comSeptember 3, 2013 

— The city council voted Tuesday to suspend regulations banning food distribution at Moore Square, but the issue that sparked a national outcry is far from over.

The full council upheld a committee decision last week that came in response to reports that several charities were threatened with arrest for offering free food to the homeless and needy. The reports made national news, and city council members are still receiving hundreds of emails voicing outrage over the police action.

Tuesday’s vote means the weekend feedings can continue in Moore Square – at least until the city council addresses the issue again in late November.

For the next few months, ordinances requiring an $825 permit for park events will remain on the books, but they won’t be enforced on charity food hand-outs.

“We’re turning somewhat of a blind eye until we come up with some solutions,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said Tuesday.

Work on a long-term solution is just beginning. Interim City Manager Perry James told the council that city employees are forming a steering committee to study the issue between now and mid-November.

“I feel that we are moving on a positive path toward a collaborative and comprehensive look at the issue of food distribution to those in need,” James wrote in a memo to the council.

The study will determine alternative sites for weekend food distributions and encourage charities to use them instead of the one-block downtown park, where litter is sometimes a problem. The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina has already offered its lot on West Morgan Street, and city leaders are also planning a feeding site at the South Wilmington Street Center, a homeless shelter operated by Wake County.

But new sites could prompt concerns from neighbors, and Councilman Eugene Weeks said Tuesday that he’s already hearing from folks in his district.

“The word is out: don’t try to put them all in Southeast Raleigh,” Weeks said.

Several council members say they have high hopes for discussions this fall, noting the dozens of speakers who attended a public hearing last week.

“There was so much love that I felt from people who really care about their fellow citizens,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said. “With that much goodwill, I feel we can find solutions that are better than what we have today.”

Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries – whose blog post about the arrest threats sparked the debate – said he’s happy with Tuesday’s vote but thinks more action is needed. He wants the city to consider increasing funding to social service programs as well.

“This isn’t about biscuits” at Moore Square, Hollowell said. “This is about vulnerable people and how they get food to eat.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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